Most people associate the martial arts genre with Asian cinema, but there are not only varying arts around the world; there are also rising action stars as well. In 2006 unknown director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza teamed up with then unknown star Marko Zaror to unleash the first South American martial arts film Kiltro. Over the years this team has delivered more of their signature action, with Zaror also taking on memorable roles in Undisputed III opposite Scott Adkins and Machete Kills with Danny Trejo and Mel Gibson. Now Espinoza and Zaror have teamed up once again for their latest martial arts action film Redeemer. I had the chance to sit down with martial artist and action star Marko Zaror to discuss his training, career and this latest collaboration with Espinoza.
Bobby: Before getting into the Redeemer, can you tell us a bit about your martial arts background?
Marko: I started with Karate when I was a little kid because my mother is a 2nd degree black belt. When I saw Enter the Dragon with Bruce Lee I went crazy and started looking for Kung-Fu and more Chinese styles. As a kid you see him and think since he is Chinese you think he does Kung-Fu, but over the years you realize he was totally doing his own stuff. That is why when I was a kid I started doing different types of Kung-Fu like Wing-Chun and then switched it into Tae Kwon Do because I had a good ability to do the kicking. I didn’t like to stay too long in one style so I started trying different stuff and when I moved to Mexico I started training in kickboxing and the acrobatics like Extreme martial arts. When I got to LA I started reading books about high performance training in different sports to start applying to my training. I started doing a program like a pro-athlete into the martial arts. So now I don’t put myself in a specific style, I just train and improve my ability as much as I can.
Bobby: I understand, while I still teach Tae Kwon Do and Muay Thai, when I train it is more of an amalgam of everything I have learned.
Marko: Yeah, I come from the generation where there was no YouTube or nothing like that. So you had to read the books and go somewhere to train. I remember reading books on how sprinters train and those guys that do the long jump and trying to understand how they improved their abilities and apply those into my training routine. Today it is so easy and cool to be able to just go find this stuff on YouTube you know.
Bobby: I know, back then outside of the books and classes you only had the movies and trying to figure out what they were doing.
Marko: Yeah I know man. The only I had from Bruce Lee was his movies and there you can’t really tell his training or the way he did it, I only had the books in Chile. I started to find out about the weight training and doing similar stuff. At the end it was the mentality of being open and absorb everything that can work for you.
Bobby: You have been training for a long time and when I spoke to Ernesto he mentioned you guys made films together in high school. Was that something you always wanted to do or was it just because he had the filmmaking skills and you had the martial arts skills to bring it together?
Marko: Since I was a kid training martial arts and when I saw Enter the Dragon that is what I wanted to do with my life, but it wasn’t making movies because in Chile there is no movie industry. There had never been an action or martial arts movie in Chile before Kiltro, the first film we made together so it wasn’t even a dream. Today the internet brings everyone together you know, but back then something like that wasn’t even a dream. So I was training to compete and to try and find myself and I what I can do with this. I felt that call so strong and realized this is why I am here. This life I am living right now grabbed me so strong. The philosophies and everything related to martial arts so in school I was a freak. Everyone was playing soccer and I was doing something with martial arts. In class they were teaching math and I was in the back of the room sitting in the splits and trying to stretch. I was really tight and not one of those natural guys that could do the splits, I was so tight man. I was really good at jumping, speed and power, but the stretch no. So I was a freak man, which is why it really came together with Ernesto because he was also a freak but with a camera. He was always drawing storyboards and with his camera making movies with our friends. It was an old camcorder, remember those and he edited them with VHS to VHS editing. We were in English class together and they said you guys have to do a video or book in English, but it has to be professional. So I told him let’s get in the group together and make a martial arts movie, so we did a video about this detective and there are a couple of fights. Then when I grew up and went to LA, I invited him to be the first AD in a movie I was doing and that is how we started doing stuff together.
Bobby: This film seems a lot grittier than some of your previous films, with a somewhat less is more approach. How did you prepare for this character?
Marko: It was written for me. Ernesto knows me from when we were kids so he knows how to get the performance out of me. This character we really wanted to take in a different direction. We’ve done the movies where I am the quirky guy, but we’ve never done a serious karate movie before. I wanted to try it, because me as a person I am very sensitive, emotional and kind of melancholic, like a horse. You know with the horse you can see the soul to the horse in its eyes and I am actually a horse in the Chinese horoscope. People see me as a tough guy with the martial arts, but for some reason I am very emotional. That type of character fits me really good. He has big trouble inside and trying to solve this and very into himself. Actually Mirageman has a little bit of that too, but this one we wanted to take it more seriously and farther. Me as a martial artist I have tried to find something real in every character that I have played that I can relate too. I’m not an actor that is wanting to try different things or a passion to try different things, for me the character has to make sense to me as who I am as a martial artist. I wouldn’t have an interest in playing a movie where there is no action involved or something that I relate too. Martial arts are my main thing and I try to find that in every character that I do. This guy was an assassin, but he is in big, big trouble in his mind. He has delirium and really believes that he has a deal with God. He is really obsessed with that and I have been there. I am a very obsessive guy when things get in my head. There are a lot of things with this character that is just me you know.
Bobby: One of the things that makes this movie work so well is that you say very little with your mouth but so much with the action, your facial expressions and the way he makes the decisions before he goes out. Those scenes said so much with you doing so little and they are powerful.
Once he makes his decision you obviously unleashed some awesome fight sequences. As a martial artist how hard was it for you to adjust your actual traditional martial arts to doing it on screen?
Marko: Its understanding that sometimes the perfect technique in combat doesn’t come across the same way on the screen. Now you have the eyes of the audience from a different angle. It’s all about the angle and how the camera moves. Sometimes you have to use that in your favor and when your fist is supposed to be one way with that angle you cannot see the technique so you have to open it more. You have to open your arms instead of being short and precise because if the camera is over your shoulder and you are short and precise the camera may not see anything. That’s why I don’t like to stay in just one style because for me it is about having your body ready to do whatever it is you need to do instead of saying I just know this kick this way and cannot do it another way. It’s all about training your body and yourself as a complete martial artist and not be limited. What I try to pursue in each fight scene is to understand that it is a movie and that there is choreography, but never lose the sense of reality, adrenaline, and it sometimes being messy. When you see two guys fighting you do not see perfect technique or posing. Sometimes you see really raw fist that is explosive and connects to the face. That is a feeling that sometimes a lot of movies that I have seen lately have really great choreography but you realize you are watching more of a dance. You lose the sense of adrenaline in the movie.
In this movie I did something that I have never done in my other movies and after working in Undisputed 3 and took some of that, I went back and watched some of Bruce Lee’s old movies again and watched his way of showing his stuff and tried to understand it. You can do great choreography, but if it doesn’t feel real you lose that realism. It looks good, but how to get the audience to not follow the one, two, three pow, see what I’m saying? So what I did in this movie was combine choreography with real moments in the fight. Some parts of the fight scenes are kind of like moments of sparring or like real fighting where I do not know what is going to happen and he also does not know but then there are moments with the choreograph. We mix it up so that the body language is a totally different thing.
Bobby: That is pretty noticeable in the film to someone who actually trains and is obsessed with the fight scenes like myself. I agree with what you are saying in regards to them looking like dances. They are fun to watch but you don’t get invested. In this film they came off brilliantly.
Marko: Thank you, I appreciate that. I know that we have to make movies that everybody likes but I try and put myself as the audience when I am making a movie. When I am doing the fight scenes it needs to be for the martial artist eyes. I know that sometimes the regular audiences like other things, but I love to do this for people that love the martial arts. I dedicate a lot of time and try to do my best to challenge myself in each movie. I look back in the day and I see Kiltro and Mandrill and feel that this is a totally different level of martial arts for sure.
Bobby: I have seen the other films and had a perception of what to expect, but after the first fight I realized this is a different kind of movie.
Marko: Yeah, but you know the first fight in my opinion is not my favorite. It’s really simple, but when I get into the one on one fights I think is when you can really see it. The first fight was a quick introduction to the character and I am fighting people that do not know how to fight so it was a whole different thing. I really like it though, but compared with the other fights of the movie it is not the strongest for sure.
Bobby: You can see that they evolve throughout the film, especially with the guy in the black jacket in the warehouse and hitting him in different spots and not hurting him. From that moment the fights really stepped up so much more.
Marko: That guy is a Black Belt Karate guy who is very good. I wanted to tell a story in the fight and I was trying to find his weak point and hitting different points and angles. When I realize it was the ribs I started making fakes to open it up and breaking it down. It’s the same when I fought Alacran played by Jose Luis Mosca it was a very even fight and then I start taking apart his legs and break him apart, but it’s a different strategy.
Bobby: There are so many more stories that this character could tell, is there hopes to revisit it?
Marko: Yeah I would love to do the English remake or something. Now this guy can travel and it would be cool to do something like in Texas or somewhere with different atmospheres and characters. It would be cool.
Bobby: Do you have any other projects coming up that you can tell us about?
Marko: I just finished a movie and can’t talk too much about it, but it is called The Green Ghost. I play the bad guy named Drake and am the fight coordinator. There are some cool surprises with that one coming up. It’s an American movie and I have a good role with a lot of fight scenes. It’s a fun movie.
Bobby: I have been a big fan for a while and personally think this is the best film you guys have done so far. Not just in the fighting but in performance as well as there is so much emotion and character there with so little forced performance. I really want to applaud you for it And am going to do what I can to get people to see this film.
Marko: I appreciate it man. For a movie like this it is all about the word of mouth. There isn’t a lot of money for publicity and for us to keep doing it, it is important for people to see it and the movie to get the turnaround.
Bobby: As I said, I’m a big fan and appreciate you taking the time to do this. It has been a real honor to speak with you.
Marko: My pleasure man.
Check out Redeemer in theaters and VOD now.
For more information on Redeemer head over to www.redeemerthefilm
For more information on The Green Ghost head over tohttps://www.facebook.com/thegreenghostmovie?fref=ts